You may have heard that taking the bus through downtown Minneapolis is slow as hell. It’s true. You also may have heard that most local bus routes that run north-south through downtown have been re-routed from Nicollet Mall:
In a couple days, Hennepin Avenue is going to be jam-packed with buses. Emigrated (and excellent) streets.mn writer Alex Bauman shows us just how many we can expect during weekday AM and PM peak hours:
For those counting at home, Marquette and 2nd Avenues dedicate two lanes each for suburban express routes, and it’s widely known to be at capacity already despite only being about five years old.
The good news is that Hennepin technically has a bus lane (did you know that? I bet many didn’t!). Okay, it’s a bus, bike, and right-turn lane. And it’s really poorly marked and designed. A single, nondescript sign at the start of each block with a faded sharrow painted on the pavement basically tells people (especially the ones visiting downtown for the first time in a while) that driving in this lane is probably okay. Anecdotal experience and “driving” on Google Streetview confirm people cruise in this lane without turning right all the time.
There’s a lazy (but true) argument that local routes have been relegated to Nicollet Mall and this Hennepin Ave “bus lane” while suburban commuters get multiple lanes and nicer bus stops. I’m not making that argument today, so let’s keep it out of the comment section.
The bigger point here is that Hennepin Avenue will now have roughly as many buses per lane per hour as Marquette/2nd with roughly the same number of people boarding per day.
Word on the street? A recipe for disaster. Even with just the legally right turning cars, scofflaw cyclists riding the gutter pan, and no second dedicated lane for buses to easily pull into to pass other buses, things will be slow. Add in that the boarding process for local routes is much slower than suburban express routes, which typically pay as you exit rather than individual card tap or cash payment at boarding (plus people can be terrible about moving back, exiting properly, and such). So, we’re talking VERY slow. Buses will bunch, children will weep, millennials will curse into the Twitter Void. Until the end of 2017!
There’s a good case here to roll out an Emergency Installation of All Door Boarding for the routes affected. San Francisco’s Muni buses implemented all-door boarding at very little cost and saw great results on the whole. The downtown routes and stops would be a good case study for a system-wide implementation down the road. I’m hoping the comment section can identify some other options for Metro Transit to speed these buses up.
As I said before, my anecdotal experience as both someone who bikes down Hennepin and also rides buses along it tells me the right-turn only rule for drivers is barely enforced. Without doing a data request to the Minneapolis Police Department, my guess is that fewer than 25 citations are issued a year for this behavior.
At the very least, the Police Department and Traffic Control need to step up citations for drivers violating posted rules. I’d actually like to see Public Works lay down some red or green paint in the lane to more clearly mark this space as bus and bike only. I’d even go so far to suggest we ban right turning movements entirely; I’ve been in many buses slowed down by a car waiting to turn right while pedestrians to cross with the signal. I’m not sure how well this would go over.
Either way, tens of thousands of people using buses downtown will be affected by this change. There are plenty of novice bus users who may be turned away for life from transit if we let our most prominent local routes suffer more than necessary for two years. Let’s make the absolute best of a crummy situation, even if it means a few motorists get ticketed or need to find alternate routes (or, thinking way outside the box, alternate modes!) through downtown.
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